You never expected to be seriously injured at work, and it's certainly not your intention to never return to work, but it's important that you're given all the time you need to fully recover from your injury before returning. Workers’ compensation benefits have helped you get by while you're unable to do your job safely, but, if your employer has a Return to Work (RTW) program, you may be rushed to return before you are truly ready. Learn more about these programs so you can protect your right to a full recovery.
What Is a Return to Work Program?
It's usually the goal of an employer to allow an injured employee the time he or she needs to recover from a workplace injury or illness while receiving workers’ compensation benefits, and then return the employee to his or her previous position with the company.
This saves the employer time and money in the long run, whereas hiring and training a replacement can be costly.
To ease this process, some companies have formal RTW programs. These programs bring workers back in temporary, limited, or light duty positions while they recover. Employees may earn partial wages, and their workers’ comp benefits will make up the difference between the temporary wage and their pre-injury earnings.
Some Potential Problems With RTW Programs
Despite the intention of easing an injured employee back into work, RTW programs don't always function well for employers or workers. Some possible problems include the following:
- Failure to provide accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide accommodations to those workers who cannot perform job duties without them. This may mean changing a job so that a person with disabilities can perform it successfully. When offering a RTW position to an injured employee, it must include the necessary accommodations.
- Insisting on full job duty. When an employer insists that an injured worker be ready for “full duty” before returning to work, the worker may be rushed to return before he is medically ready. Employees who aren't permitted to return for light duty work are more likely to suffer from depression and an extended recovery period.
- Failure to account for other health factors. When an employer fails to identify other factors that may have contributed to the worker’s injury or illness—such as obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure—the worker is less likely to recover and is at risk for re-injury. Encouraging an employee to treat these health factors and providing the benefits to do so can help with the transition back to work.
- Fear that the worker may get hurt again. When either the employer or employee fears being injured again, the RTW efforts may be hampered. While there's always a risk of re-injury, there's an even greater risk in having the employee stay at home and develop a “disability attitude” that extends the absence and drives up costs.
- Relying exclusively on the doctor’s assessment. Workers’ comp requires a doctor’s clearance for an employee to return to work. While the doctor can assess the individual's progress toward recovery, he or she isn’t always aware of the full range of duties required by the position. Therefore, it's important that the employer and employee be allowed input as to the worker’s readiness to return.
The goal of an RTW program is to ease a recovering employee back into the workplace following an injury. When the program isn't properly implemented or managed, it can backfire and limit an employee's rights.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at work on the job in Kansas City you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.